COUNTING TRAFFIC IN A RETAIL STORE
Having an exact count of the customers can bring enormous benefits to the retail business. Few of these benefits include increased sales, and accurate conversion rate measurement. It also helps in knowing the busiest time for store which further assists store management to manage their staff at that point of time as well as it drives accountability which helps measure the effectiveness of promotions and marketing strategies, resulting in knowing the actual sales conversion. Vijeta Gupta, a student of Master’s in Fashion Technology, NIFT, Delhi discusses the technologies available for keeping count of the traffic in the retail stores.
According to a blog posted by the Control Group, it was in the early ’70s when retailers started realising the importance of counting people visiting their stores. During that time, a Canadian engineer came up with the idea of an outfitted large box with an infrared beam that could count every time someone walked across it. Since then, there have been many technological advancements made in this field that have helped the retailers have better customer behaviour understanding.
The basic level of technology available for counting the visitors was the infrared beam counter. This technology emits horizontal infrared beam between the entry door and when any person enters or exits the store, the beam gets interrupted and transmits that count to the receiver. It is an inexpensive and easy to install method, which serves the purpose of small standalone stores. These wireless systems can be powered with lithium batteries and can work for years or even longer without any replacement required.
However, the major disadvantage that comes with this basic level of technology is the accuracy. These systems can show inaccurate counting in case of many people entering the store at the same time. For example, in case of a wider entrance when ten people are entering the store at the same time, the counter may count only seven. These systems are therefore preferred in smaller physical stores with narrower entrances. The maximum efficiency of this technology has been seen in stores with narrow entrance. The major brands of the Infrared ( IR) based counter are Traf-Sys, SenSource.
Owing to big retailers not getting any advantage out of the IR technology, new alternative technologies were developed such as thermal counters which use array sensors that detect heat sources. These are overhead embedded systems and use heat from the people body’s to count the number of customers entering the store. Few brands also have technology for determining the people entering and leaving the store separately. These systems require cable connection to power the sensor and give a high level of accuracy, mainly in the stores with bright light. They can be used in areas with wide entrances, delivering a greater level of accuracy. However these systems have a few disadvantages; one of them is difficulty in figuring out what sort of individual (grown-ups or youngsters) is shopping at the given time. Moreover, it becomes difficult to verify the accuracy of the counter, and also the accuracy of the system can be affected by the change in thermal condition in the ambience of the operation. The major brands providing thermal counters are SenSource and Irisys.
Therefore, the video counting system was developed to counter the challenges of thermal counter.
Suppose, the busiest hour of a store is in the evening, then more number of staff can be appointed during that time, rather than in afternoon and morning. This will help in providing better customer service and greater attention which will further lead to decreased expenditure cost as it reduces unwanted number of staff at a certain time and will help in the better management of the number of staff.
This overhead mounted counter counts the number of visitors that venture into the store through a virtually definable region or line. The counting performed is generally directional and they operate in the region with the best lighting. Few of the sensors are able to provide information of who is entering when and where. They can handle wider areas with multiple systems being installed in different regions. Some also have the ability to filter carts, children and strollers and therefore provide more accurate data. The disadvantage of these systems is their sensitivity to the change in background colour and feature, which may result in inaccurate count. Lenses can be affected by dirt and dust affecting the visual wavelength. Thus such a system requires periodic cleaning. These systems are also sensitive to lighting level and may not function below a certain level of light. The major brands providing video people counters are: Axis Communications and Honeywell Solutions.
The Wi- Fi counting systems can be used in customers’ smartphones and do not have the problem of sensitivity to light, unlike the video counter technology. Every smart phone transmits Wi- Fi signals every 2 to 8 seconds, even when they are not being used. The system then collects all its Wi- Fi signals in the range and detects all the smartphones which are not logged in to the Wi- Fi network. The advantage of the system is that the devices can remember who came before and have entered again after three months. The device is useful in determining how many of the visitors are returning customers, how long did they stay in the store, how many passers-by were there in front of the store but did not enter the store.
Moreover, the additional filtering algorithm is used to filter out the statistics, staff devices and can correct any deviations and errors in the observations. The major brands providing Wi- Fi people counter are Traf-Sys and V- Count.
But all the above mentioned technologies could not fulfil the overall demand of the retailers in the current scenario. For the best accuracy to beat the competition of the market, the retailers needed better technology serving the purpose of all. The CCTV ( Closed Circuit Television) people counting with video footage that combines the benefits of video counting and Wi- Fi counting system is the final answer to the retailers’ continuing crisis. In this technology, the people counter is connected with the CCTV camera that tracks the movement of the people in the stores. They provide high accurate data as the systems are enabled with live video recording, which help in identifying the accuracy and authenticity of the data. The system also records the video which can be used for further usage. The benefit of the system is its effective implementation in wide area entrances by connecting several cameras across the ceiling. The CCTV counting system accurately detects and records the entries, exit and the waiting time, that helps determine the time period for which the customer was there in the store and how often the customer visited the store. The major brands providing CCTV people counting technology are Retail Sensing, ClearView Communications.
Using the advanced level of technology can help in a number of factors, the primary ones being the value for money and quick ROI ( Return on Investment). The higher level of technology generally ensures increase in conversion rate. People counting data becomes even more powerful when it is combined with other data sources, specifically Point Of Sale ( POS). With this combination, the retailers can compute the conversion rate. Without knowing the visitors’ count, the retailers are missing the complete picture and are calculating based on their gut feelings. People counting and conversion should be used to measure store performance on an ongoing basis to continuously identify areas for improvement.
The above table shows the accuracy level calculation.
[ The accuracy percentage of Eco- counter ( IR based counter and Thermal Counter) is taken from the article Investigating the performance of automatic counting sensor for pedestrian traffic data collection’ by Hong Yang I.e.;
and the accuracy percentage of CCTV based camera has been taken from retail-sensing site
How a CCTV people counting system works, 2017’].
The information accuracy by the advanced level (CCTV) technology is high as compared to the other counting methods which further results in subsequent advantages such as less incidents of theft in the retail stores, which promotional strategy is getting more attention from the visitors etc.
The CCTV counting system accurately detects and records the entries, exit and the waiting time, that helps to determine the time period for which the customer was there in the store and how often the customer visited the store.